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Playing Out

24th June 2011

I’m always amazed at how much creative energy children have. You don’t have to tell them to create something, it just happens naturally when you give them the space to be themselves. Wouldn’t it be great to come up with and carry out all these fantastic ideas when you got together with your friends in the park or pub, instead of sitting there chatting? The trouble is, how much time do we let children really be the directors of their own play before they’re told to stop it, put it down and come inside?

I’ve just finished a project working in Leeds. The main point of it was a forest school programme for a group of children in Reception (4-5 year olds) but the teachers wanted the rest of the class to have an outdoor experience too. They were interested in exploring new ways to make the most out of their outdoor area so in the afternoons I’d work with a whole class at a time out in the playground. The time period spanned two class topics; Pirates and Holidays so we used this as the basis of our outdoor play. We started with a story, poem or activity in class but then went outside to play with this idea. I brought the resources, or got hold of what we could find out there, but the direction they took was completely up to them. It was truly inspiring seeing how they extended the ideas. On the pirate days they made ships, scrubbed the decks, hoisted a jolly roger and found treasure, inventing their storylines and working out who needs to do what. For the holiday afternoons, we decided together what we needed to pack then went outside to set up camp in the playground. They made tents, banged in tent pegs, rubbed sticks together to make a fire (where do they learn this? All children seem to instinctively know it but almost certainly do not know anyone who can do it) and cooked delicious grass soups.

From the outside it may have sometimes looked chaotic. When you don’t yet have advanced language skills in any language, negotiating turns with a hammer or asking for help with a rope can involve a lot of tears and tantrums, but the photos I took really helped us afterwards to see that in amongst the noise and chaos were some lovely moments of learning, team building and creativity, which is surely what we ask of school. Let’s let children be children, forget timetables and classrooms and create some space and time for real free play. The best learning seems to happen outside the classroom.